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Cuba Slides into World Baseball Classic

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Cuba Slides into World Baseball Classic

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Cuba Slides into World Baseball Classic

Cuba Slides into World Baseball Classic

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Cuba will play ball in the inaugural World Baseball Classic in March. But its presence required a diplomatic deal between the United States and Fidel Castro's Cuba, amid pressure from big-league baseball's players' union.

JOHN YDSTIE, host:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

In March, some of the best baseball players in the world will compete in what's being touted as a true World Series. Teams from traditional baseball powers like the Dominican Republic and the United States will be there, and as of yesterday, Cuba. The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it will grant Major League Baseball the necessary license to include Cuba in the tournament. The U.S. originally denied the license.

NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN reporting:

The World Baseball Classic appears to be Major League Commission Bud Selig's latest attempt to spread the game around the globe, and make good money in the process. The 16 countries chosen for the Tournament stand to make some themselves reportedly each team earns at least 1 percent of the profits, the winner gets 10 percent.

When the plan was first revealed, the U.S. Treasury Department had one particular problem, according to department spokeswoman Molly Millerwise.

Ms. MOLLY MILLERWISE (Spokeswoman, U.S. Department of Treasury): It was not consistent with current U.S. foreign policy towards Cuba and could have resulted in resources and funding going down to the Castro regime.

GOLDMAN: That would have violated this country's more than 40-year economic embargo of the island nation. So, Treasury said no Cuba in the World Baseball Classic. The International Baseball Federation said, no Cuba, no official sanction of the tournament -- meaning it could all unravel. So, late last month Major League officials went back to the U.S. government and re-applied for a license for Cuba.

Yesterday, the Treasury Department said yes. What made it work this time? Here's Molly Millerwise.

Ms. MILLERWISE: Making it work was ensuring that no funding would make its way down into the hands of the Castro regime.

GOLDMAN: Neither Major League Baseball nor the Players Union, co-organizers of the Tournament, would provide details of what'll happen to Cuba's share of the profits. Baseball officials are pleased with the government's decision, Lincoln Diaz-Ballart is not. The South Florida Congressman, who fled Cuba as a four-year old in 1959, says he's deeply disappointed that baseball, and particularly the Player's Association, worked so hard to get Cuba into the Tournament.

Representative LINCOLN DIAZ BALLART (Republican, Florida): You know you never would have seen an invitation from Major League Baseball to the team from South Africa, much less a Union here working for South Africa under Apartheid.

So, there's such a lack of sensitivity toward the suffering of the Cuban people. For 47 years they've suffered totalitarian oppression.

GOLDMAN: In a recent New York Times Opinion piece, Roberto Gonzales Echevarria, author of a book about Cuban baseball, said players there can be suspended if it's thought they might try to defect. They also face two years in jail if they say bad things about the Castro government to foreign reporters.

In early March, Cuba will play its first-round games in Puerto Rico. Congressman Diaz-Ballart said yesterday he'll encourage the players to defect and that he'll help them do so any way he can.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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